Everyone remembers where they were on September 11. I happened to be in Denver for a k.d. lang show and, once the show was cancelled, I had to ride back to L.A. in the equipment truck. It seems unlikely that the events of that horrific day will be repeated, but anyone who spends more than a few dozen days a year flying should reassess their future travel plans in light of the new airport security measures. This month's column consists of reminders and useful tips that may help your 2002 touring season run smoothly.
First, the obvious stuff. Reeling from a precipitous decline in air travel, several airlines have cut back their schedules, and will continue to do so as necessary. It's now more important than ever to confirm that the flight you've booked is actually flying. If your flight is canceled, remember that airlines have a little-publicized policy of accepting passengers from other airlines. This is one instance in which an old-fashioned paper ticket is useful. If your flight is canceled, or delayed to the point where a connection will be missed (and this can include a ground connection), your counter agent can put you on another airline's flight. However, this is difficult or impossible without a paper ticket.
Most airlines now recommend that passengers arrive two hours before departure, and, on early morning and late afternoon flights, when airports are busiest, it now can take all of that time to reach the gate. Simply getting to the front of the ticket counter line may take more than an hour, and security screening can add another half hour. Of course, at other times of the day it may only take 15 minutes to get from curb to gate, leaving you with an hour and 45 minutes to fill. Sadly, the Nashville Admiral's Club is just one of several executive lounges that have been closed, as have many in-city ticket centers.
To get past security checkpoints, you now need a boarding pass, a ticket or a printed e-ticket confirmation, and photo ID. If you travel with a computer or cell phone, you may be asked to demo them. The wrong choice of words at a security checkpoint can have horrendous consequences, so any crew members new to touring should be thoroughly briefed — joking with airline or security employees is high-risk behavior. Any real or perceived lapse in security can result in an entire airport being shut down.
Remember, knives can only be transported in checked baggage and gate security will confiscate any sharp object, including nail scissors. Knives of any size or kind are prohibited in the aircraft cabin — many airlines no longer provide steak knives in first class. Other prohibited items include corkscrews, knitting needles, baseball bats, golf clubs, pool cues, ski poles and hockey sticks. Packing small, loose items into clear plastic containers will help speed you through security — heavy-duty Ziplock freezer bags are a better choice than microphone pouches.
THE OTHER “PACK”
Airlines generally allow you to check two bags, each weighing up to 70 pounds. Extra pieces and oversized or overweight bags are deemed “excess baggage” and charged accordingly; extra pieces start at about $75 per, and items that are both oversized and overweight can be charged twice, at the discretion of the agent. However, a group traveling together can use the sum of their individual allowances as their total baggage allowance (i.e., four travelers can check eight bags). And you can often get away with slightly overweight bags, especially at those airports that allow curbside check-in; tip a skycap generously, and your group's baggage may avoid the scales.
Checked bags must have a “linear dimension” (length + width + height) of 62 inches or under. Items over 62 linear inches can be charged $75, no single dimension may be over 62 inches and items over 115 linear inches can be refused. Items weighing more than 100 pounds can also be refused. Exceptions to these rules can be made for camera, film, lighting and sound equipment that are checked by TV or film company representatives; these items are charged at a rate of $35 per piece. Make sure you have proper credentials — business cards and a company name stenciled on the cases.
Traveling abroad, all bets are off. Foreign countries have vastly different luggage restrictions, and I can tell you from experience that a bag weighing more than 50 pounds won't get on a flight in Australia. Also, carrying a walkie-talkie onboard a plane in Germany will get you stopped.
Another point to remember is that luggage liability in the U.S. is limited to $2,500 per passenger, and most airlines assume no liability whatsoever for computers, electronic and photographic equipment, jewelry, cash and securities, artwork and “fragile items.” Any trip that includes a change of planes represents an excellent opportunity for checked bags to wind up at the wrong destination; I still have a Hawaiian agricultural inspection sticker on my mic case to prove it.
On commercial jet flights, you can now carry on only one bag, plus one personal item. The one personal item can be a purse, briefcase, computer bag or camera case and an additional coat, jacket, newspaper, book, snack or drink usually don't count. Of course, passengers without luggage to check can bypass the counter and go directly to the gate. And going “carry-on only” saves time at the other end — while other passengers are waiting at the baggage carousel, you can be first in line at the taxi rank or car rental counter.
If you opt for the carry-on option, some downsizing may be in order. With an all-black wardrobe, doing laundry a little more often can help you get all your stuff into a single carry-on bag. This year's backstage laundry award goes to Walnut Creek's Alltel Pavilion (Raleigh, N.C.), whose recent renovations include two new pairs of Maytag Neptune machines. Most airlines have similar size limits for the carry-on bag (typically 22×14×9 inches or 24×16×10 inches). [See the accompanying sidebar “Baggage Picks for the Airport” for some suggestions.]
Mark Frink is Mix's sound reinforcement editor.
ROLL YOUR OWN
For the price of a handful of first-class tickets, a small group can travel in style on a small chartered jet. Bidjetcharter.com is a helpful site for pricing itineraries. The trick to keeping costs down is to travel two legs in one day, flying into one city and on to the next after the show that same day. A Lear 35 is like a limousine with wings, and a Gulfstream can hold a dozen or more passengers, but luggage space is still at a premium.
PICKS FOR THE AIRPORT
Chicago Case's MFCART22149 meets the strictest airline carry-on size restrictions and has a built-in telescoping handle and roller-blade wheels. When you need to get the most out of your carry-on allowance, this case fits all requirements. Made of high-density polyethylene, the case has both key-lock clasps and a combination lock. The MFC22149 without wheels and handle has a little more room inside — enough to hold all mics and DIs for a typical show.
Samsonite's 29-inch “Cartwheels” Oyster is the Tupperware of road warriors. You've seen thousands on luggage carousels, and they can be bought cheap on the streets of New York City. These rugged polyethylene cases are not only good for clothes — I have used one for an entire show's worth of mic cable looms — and they're just about the right size for a three-space rack-sleeve. They can also hold a snare, kick pedal, cymbals and sticks. They're never questioned at check-in, and if it looks like a suitcase, you'll often get away with one that weighs more than the 70-pound limit.
Pelican's 1470 and 1490 Computer Cases. The new restrictions limit you to only one carry-on plus one personal item, which can be a computer case or a briefcase. The Deluxe version of this new case comes in two sizes, for either 12- or 14-inch-wide computers, with key locks, a file and cell phone organizer in the lid, a shock-absorbing computer tray with accessory storage underneath and a detachable shoulder strap. The case is waterproof, and if it needs to be gate-checked on a particular flight, it's rugged enough to protect a laptop.
TechnoMad's ProRacks are roto-molded cases made from the same materials as TechnoMad's rugged military-spec'd. speakers. The linear dimensions of the 4RU and 6RU sizes qualify them as checked baggage, and, because they weigh under 25 pounds empty, they can be loaded with 45 pounds of gear without exceeding weight limits. Gasket seals protect against moisture and dust.
— Mark Frink
THE SHIPPING NEWS
Do you have a piece of baggage that cannot be checked but absolutely must reach its destination? Overnight round-trip for a 70-pound item via FedEx or UPS is typically less than the cost of a discounted coach ticket. Items weighing more than 150 pounds can be shipped by FedEx Freight, and I once overnighted an EAW KF 850 cabinet. A new FedEx division, Custom Critical, provides time-specific, exclusive-use trucking up to 800 miles overnight.